Home > About reading, Pef > A Little Praise for Reading by Pef and other thoughts

A Little Praise for Reading by Pef and other thoughts

November 20, 2016 Leave a comment Go to comments

Petit éloge de la lecture by Pef. (2016)

pef_elogeI’ve been overworked for a few weeks and I also had a lot of family activities going on. Consequences: I’m behind with my writing about the books I read and I have a huge pile of unread reviews in my mail box.

This morning I decided to write a global billet about Eddie’s World by Charlie Stella, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson and The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan. Just for the sake of catching up with billets and decrease the TBW pile. Then I started to read the quotes I had captured while reading Eddie’s World and found out I couldn’t settle for a hodge-podge of a billet just to tackle the TBW pile. I owe nothing to the writers of these three books, two of them are dead anyway and I doubt that my billet will bring anything to Charlie Stella’s life or book sales. Still. I owe it to the books and the pleasure I had reading them.

This brings me to another little book I picked: Petit éloge de la lecture by Pef. The title means Little praise for reading and here’s Pef about readers:

Victor Hugo se dit « les pieds sur terre et les yeux ailleurs ». Les lecteurs, qu’ils soient debout, assis, recroquevillés ou allongés sont les purs colocataires de cette phrase. Victor Hugo said of himself that he had « his feet on earth and his eyes elsewhere ». Readers are the real roommates of this sentence whatever their reading position. Standing, sitting, curled up or lying down.

pef_motorduPef is a writer of children books. His most famous collection is the one featuring Le Prince de Motordu. (The Prince of Twistedwords) and his adventures start in La belle lisse poire du Prince de Motordu, which can be translated as The beautiful furry tail of the Prince of Twistedwords. This needs to be read out loud and many thanks to Tony from Tony’s Reading List for understanding French perfectly and finding an English equivalent to Pef’s play-on-words. Pef loves playing with the French language and his prose is bubbly and classic at the same time. The quote above wasn’t easy to translate as it manages to encompass several difficulties between the French and the English language: body positions, the locution qu’ils soient, and the string of adjectives. So for once, the English text is longer that the French. Any alternative translation is welcome in the comments, I really struggled with it.

Back to Pef and his praise of reading. I started this with enthusiasm because I always enjoy reading about someone else’s delight with books. His is a collection of memories about reading moments. He pictures memories brought by books, memories of where you were when you read this particular book but also memories of the books themselves. We are inhabited by the characters we met through our reading. This is why recurring characters from crime fiction series seem like distant relatives to me or why I see Charles Bovary in Carl Joseph von Trotta. Pef’s book is 100 pages long and its 26 short chapters show different reading occasions and materials. Train carriages, holidays, school. Postcards, novels, comics. It is full of joyful descriptions in a gourmet style. He conjures up his favorite writers and reveals the breath of his reading and the depth of his addiction. Like most crazy-in-love-with-books readers, he’d read the phone book if it were the last book on earth, just to keep on reading.

Despite all this enthusiasm, I didn’t enjoy his book that much overall. Or perhaps I was too tired to enjoy it. I found it a bit old-fashioned. Pef was born in 1939 and you can feel his age in his pages because his reading memories relate to realities that don’t exist anymore. I would have preferred a praise by a younger writer, one who still has reading for passion despite video games, films, You Tube time, cell phones and all other distractions offered nowadays. Someone who backs up Pef’s statement:

Nous sommes tous venus au monde pour profiter de cette chance fabuleuse qu’est la lecture, magique, énigmatique dans sa découverte puis dans son apprentissage. We all came to the world to make the most of this amazing opportunity that is reading. It is magic, enigmatic in its discovery and its learning process.

And this is why I want to cheer on a decision the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) recently made. It has considered that libraries should be allowed to lend ebooks the way they lend paper books. It’s not an easy question from a technical point of view but it tends to treat ebooks the same way as paper books. Publishers are not in favor of this decision and the debate is not over.

This is in contradiction with another of the CJEU’s decision on VAT. In almost all EU countries, books benefit from a reduced VAT rate. It is 5.5% in France, compared to a 20% regular rate, so it makes a difference for book buyers. There’s a legal debate over ebooks: can they benefit from the reduced VAT rate or not? France has decided that the substance was more important than the form and applies a reduced VAT rate to ebooks. But according to a statement made in September 2016, the CJEU doesn’t see it that way. Ebooks are said to be “electronic services” and not books and thus shall bear a regular VAT rate. As far as I know, discussions are still going on in Brussels and I hope that France’s point of view wins in the end because, as Musset once said

Qu’importe le flacon pourvu qu’on ait l’ivresse. Never mind the bottle, let’s just drink it.



Categories: About reading, Pef Tags:
  1. November 20, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    I might enjoy this anyway but it’s good to know that it feels dated.
    I personally like posts with a few short reviews. It makes a nice change. Better than no review, something I do quite Firenze these days.


    • November 20, 2016 at 6:45 pm

      I like posts with short reviews when the books are related or all of the same genre. Here it would have been strange to mix the three, I think.


  2. November 20, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    Unbelievable autocorrect changed often to Firenze. Quite funny actually.


    • November 20, 2016 at 6:47 pm

      Yes, I had guessed that. Breton and friends would have a field day with autocorrect tools, don’t you think?

      Or Freud. Maybe your subconscious tries to tell you you’re in need of a holiday in Florence? 🙂


  3. November 20, 2016 at 5:44 pm

    I tend to also love books about books and reading.

    Your comments about how Pef seems old fashioned is making me think about how the world has changed so much in so short a time.


    • November 20, 2016 at 6:57 pm

      I like these books too.

      Changes are fast-paced at the moment. Pef learnt how to write with ink, pen and pen-holders and now children can read on ebooks. They still read books in school, though.


  4. Pat
    November 20, 2016 at 8:56 pm

    Haven’t read the lisse poire since my kids were that age, the last century some time
    Maybe The Prince of Wordplay’s twisted Tale would be shorter


    • November 21, 2016 at 11:00 pm

      La belle lisse poire du prince de Motordu ages well. I bought it for my children and for my nieces a couple of years ago.
      It’s hard to translate, isn’t it?


  5. November 21, 2016 at 12:08 am

    I always feel an immediate connection with a character who likes books.


    • November 21, 2016 at 11:00 pm

      Me too. And I have a soft spot for books set in bookstores, libraries…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. November 21, 2016 at 4:26 pm

    The VAT situation is very odd. The key thing about most books is the words. If those words are in physical or electronic format the book in most cases remains the same. It doesn’t make sense for them to attract VAT in one format and not another.

    The book sounds nice, but I suspect I’d also want something a little more up to date. The challenges to reading now are different and distraction is the great enemy of our age. And yet, we still read.

    I’d rather like to quite Firenze.


    • November 21, 2016 at 10:37 pm

      I agree with you: we buy the words, not the thing they are written on. It doesn’t make sense to me either, this difference in VAT. The real point is technical: an electronic file is easier to copy than a paper book and the quality of the copy might be as good as the original. That’s why publishers are not happy with lending ebooks in libraries. They say they won’t deteriorate the way paper books will.

      I found his tone nostalgic and I couldn’t relate to some of his experiences.
      We still read but what about the next generation? My children don’t read despite bedtime stories and seeing lots of books in the house. Perhaps they’ll come to it later.


  7. N@ncy
    November 26, 2016 at 12:33 pm

    Enjoyed your update…..
    95% of my books are E-books…just going with the times and I can have my books
    (all of them) at my finger tips.
    End quote….Musset “Qu’importe le flacon pourvu qu’on ait l’ivresse.” classic!
    Chouette chronique!


    • November 26, 2016 at 2:31 pm

      I still like paper books just because I love bookstores and lending the books after I’ve read them.

      Yes, that quote is by Musset. I’m not happy with the English translation, mostly because the word “ivresse” has a broader sense in French than in English. In English, it’s very factual with the idea of drunkenness. In French, it covers the sense of exhilaration as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      • N@ncy
        November 26, 2016 at 2:48 pm

        …thanks so much for explaining nuances of the word ‘ivresse’ !


        • November 26, 2016 at 2:56 pm

          You’re welcome. Some French things are difficult to translate into English. Mainly things around pleasure that always sound more negative in English than in French.
          Words like plaisir, gourmandise, “avoir envie” “profiter” or here “ivresse” sound sinful in English while they just sound epicurean in French.

          Liked by 1 person

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